Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Alice in Wonderland (1933)

It is a good thing that the 1933 "live action" movie of Alice in Wonderland opens with paired photographs of the characters and the actors who play them. With all of those masks, how would we ever find Cary Grant, Gary Cooper, and the others?

This is a movie to watch. If you love Alice in Wonderland, watch it. If you are entertained by your favorite actors doing unusual things, watch it. I fall into both categories, and I will admit to watching it mostly for Cary Grant. I am still a far way off from my goal of seeing all of his films.

In this adaptation, Alice takes a nap on a snowy day and wakes up to climb through a looking glass into Looking Glass Land, where we get to see so much perfect Alice:

*Alice is declared to be a volcano when she picks up some chess pieces to move them in an attempt to be helpful.
*"Goodbye dear feet."
*A terrific conversation with Caterpillar, Ed Sparks
*Edward Everett Horton (who I am coming to know as one of my favorite character actors) as the Mad Hatter:
*And Gary Cooper as a charming White Knight, possibly my favorite character (and Alice's) in this adaptation

*And the reason for my watching this movie: "Or shall the mock turtle sing?"
Oh, please!

Four stars for a great story (of course), fun costumes, and actors who seem to be enjoying themselves in their silly costumes. I hope to see this again.

On a side note, I've been thinking a lot about Cary Grant singing. His characters sometimes sing in the shower (Mr. Blandings, Charade, North by Northwest)... now he sings a very silly song as the Mock Turtle in Alice in Wonderland. Aside from Kiss and Make Up, is his singing always meant to be comedic? Then I found this while searching for Alice photos:
Cary Grant sings FCC Regulations ("Dinosaur Gardens" blog, 2006) Oh, fun!

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Great Escape (1963)

Four stars, and I would definitely see this again, even though I don't usually like war movies. I had two reasons for wanting to see The Great Escape: a long-time love of Nick Park's Chicken Run and a recent viewing of The Adventures of Pete and Pete episode "Grounded for Life" (season 2, episode 1). Both drew inspiration from The Great Escape, and I wanted to see it for myself.

The Great Escape is just a really clever movie. It is also almost three hours long, so here are some highlights...

*The Germans have built a brilliant new camp from which they think no captured officers can escape ("we have in effect put all our eggs in one basket"). First day open: 7 unsuccessful attempts, including men under branches in trucks and men trying to join a Russian work line. Hilts (Steve McQueen) tests weaknesses in the guards' line of sight with a baseball, earning him 20 days in semi-isolation.

*Clever ways of working on three tunnels while remaining unnoticed... carrying pouches of dirt in your pant legs to dump in the garden (see also Pete and Pete)... hammering during a singing of the Christmas carol "Oh come all ye faithful..."

*And, oh, the tunnel and the characters...
Recommended viewing order:
1) The Great Escape
2) Chicken Run
3) Pete and Pete's "Grounded for Life"

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Bells Are Ringing (1960)

This movie has all the right ingredients for a fun comedy... Judy Holliday, silly plot twists... But the songs almost kill it. I guess when you put Dean Martin in a movie, you have to make him sing something. The songs are ridiculous and often painful, though. They are vehicles for predictable and sometimes nauseating rhymes. So three stars for Judy Holliday and some funny ideas... subtract one star for dreadful songs... Two stars. I might be willing to watch it again.

Ella (Judy Holliday) works for an answering service called "Susanswerphone." She is very good at taking people's messages and making wake-up calls. What she is not good at is dating. Susan keeps setting her up with nice men, and the dates all end up being disastrous - everything short of setting herself on fire. Ella just finds herself unable to talk to men in person. "You know, you're a good listener. That's an art in itself... helps to build the other person's ego," says her clueless date at the beginning of this film. Ella suffers through the date, of course managing to catch her dress on fire on the way out of the restaurant. Ella shines on the phone, though. She manages to get involved in all of her clients' life stories. She even falls in love with one and has to put on lipstick before she calls him. Sadly, though, she speaks to him in an old lady voice, and he calls her Mom. Leading us to the first dreadful song:

*I'm in love with "Plaza 0 double 4 double 3" She muses about whether he's 6'4" or 4'3". Oh, she even sings part of the song to a canary.

*And then the client, Jeffrey Moss (Dean Martin) sings to himself in the mirror: "You gotta do it" Seems he's a struggling playwright.

The plot picks back up again when the ladies of Susanswerphone are accused of being a front for a "lonely hearts club." There must be no meeting up with any male clients or "you and the madam are going to be taking calls at the detention home."
It turns out there is something nefarious going on at Susanswerphone, though. A bookie charms Sue into letting him run what she thinks is a record company out of the office. Really, he has developed a code in which different bets are called different composers, pieces, etc. This leads us to the next scary song:

"It's a simple little system," a partially spoken word song in which many sketchy bookies sing about their tricky code.

Jeffrey Moss leaves his phone unplugged one day, missing his wake-up call, and we get to watch Ella crawl around on his floor after she breaks in to wake her up. He wakes up, doesn't know she's "Mom," and a romance begins. How does she know so much about him? "I'm very intuitive." What will come of her having met up with a male client?

*"So that's what he looks like..." Sadly, the comic scene above includes this dreadful song before Jeffrey wakes up.

Ella teaches Jeffrey that you can say hello to strangers on the street. He is so in love after this ("If I couldn't believe in you after everything that's happened to me today, I'd crumble away like an old sponge cake."), that he just has to sing...

*"I got a girl," which includes the lyric, "she's got a lot to recommend her for a girl."

Then we have a song-writing dentist, the "cha cha cha," a dance in the park, a very bizarre song about dropping names, and another scary number called "He's in love with Melisande Scott."

Judy Holliday rescues the movie again near the end, though, with some great physical comedy. I'm upping my verdict to "would definitely watch again," but I will be laughing at, not always with.